The Golden Age Cheetah

Personal Data

Priscilla Rich

Residence: Washington, D.C.
Occupation: Heiress and debutante, professional criminal
First Appearance (Golden Age): Wonder Woman #6 (September 1943) 

History

Priscilla Rich was born to wealth and affluence in early 20th century America.  Like most of her class, she engaged in pursuits that honed her social graces and developed "feminine talents", specifically dance.  Despite the adulation of those around her, Rich harbored a deep inferiority complex with seethed beneath an otherwise passive demeanor.  In 1943, she was involved with the Relief for Restored Countries, a charity organization hosted by local aristocrat Courtley Darling.  Darling had recruited Wonder Woman to do a display of strength and skill to raise money with Rich as the hostess introducing her.  The crowd was enthusiastic for Wonder Woman to point of dismissing Rich out of hand, demanding she cede the stage to the Amazon heroine.  Their disrespect triggered Rich and when Wonder Woman performed a trick in which she was bound in chains and submerged in a tank of water, Rich surreptitiously include the Amazon's gold lasso in the bonds.  Because that is the one chain she cannot break, Wonder Woman was dire peril but escaped unharmed at the last minute. When the evening's festivities were diverted to a venue where Wonder Woman was scheduled to be the star, Rich had a psychic break and a second, more feral, identity - The Cheetah - emerged.  The Cheetah personified Priscilla's desire to avenger herself on anyone who made her feel inferior and no one did that more than Wonder Woman.

The Cheetah's first scheme was to frame Wonder Woman and Darling by stealing the receipts for the show the Amazon had staged for RRC and hiding them in Diana Prince's apartment where Wonder Woman was staying.   As Rich, she then reported the theft and Wonder Woman was arrested but exonerated Darling.  With Wonder Woman jailed, the Cheetah turned her attention to Darling and attempted to smother him in a grain bin until the timely arrival of Wonder Woman, out on bail, rescued him.  In the ensuring melee, the Cheetah was seen on a roof where she was starting a fire but was thought killed when the burning roof collapsed beneath her. Watch the fire, Wonder Woman realized that she had failed to determine the Cheetah's true identity.

As is often the case, criminals of superlative ability escape circumstances that would kill lesser individuals and the Cheetah quickly re-appeared, this time having stumbled across a debutante in Priscilla Rich's social circle with mild extrasensory perception.  Tricking the girl into revealing a secret of her military intelligence fiancee (a secret base from which the army could strike Japan), she then black-mailed her to use her ability for other information which she could in turn use for more extortion. Diana Prince was invited for a beauty treatment at an elite salon and spa that was in fact, a cover for the ESP-based extortion racket the Cheetah had established and in the process, discovered the scheme.  While she made short work of the salon's operations, the Cheetah kidnapped the ESPer and fled, leaving Wonder Woman to figure out how to manage the compromised intelligence on the secret base.  While Wonder Woman allowed herself to be captured by the Japanese to sow doubt and discord about the base, the Cheetah once more slipped into her Priscilla Rich identity to hide.

After returning the United States, Wonder Woman's prowess is called into question by a military colleague of Steve Trevor's, who thinks the Amazon is something of a charlatan.  Wonder Woman bets that a group of penitents on Transformation Island (Paradise Island's panel colony) would match the most elite team the officer could find.  The bet accepted, the Cheetah spies the assembling team and subdues one, Kay, taking her place on the trip to Wonder Woman's homeland.  There she is infuriated by the displays of prowess and her submersion into her Cheetah identity is increased.  During a meal, Hippolyta reveals the origins of Aphrodite's Girdle and the Cheetah is enraged enough to steal it, thinking it will give her the ability to finally defeat Wonder Woman.    After discovering and assaulting the young ESPer with an amnesia drug, the Cheetah pursues Wonder Woman for a final confrontation.  While the girdle's effects are potent, Wonder Woman's powers are ultimately derived from the Gods and the Cheetah is defeated and unmasked as Priscilla Rich.  She begs Wonder Woman for mercy, claiming the Cheetah is the manifestation of mental illness and Wonder Woman decrees that she can be cured on Paradise Island (Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #6)

As a pre-requisite to her admission to Transformation Island, Wonder Woman required Priscilla Rich to return to Man's World and make restitution to the individuals that had been impacted by the Cheetah's crime spree.  She return Priscilla to her home but instead of beginning an atonement, the Cheetah re-emerged and used the girls she had manipulated in her last spree to fake Priscilla's identity while she went on a spree as the Cheetah.  Attempting and failing to kill Steve Trevor, she in turns hijacks a new sub-marine "The Wonder Woman" and sinks it with the Holiday Girls on board.  Wonder Woman ultimately defeats the Cheetah by luring her into a dance, which abates Priscilla's low-esteems as she is an excellent dancer.  Her self-esteem restored, the Cheetah persona is repressed and Priscilla agrees to return to Transformation Island for reform (Sensation Comics #22).

The Cheetah's hold on Priscilla Rich was powerful however and she rarely remained away for long.  A few months after her return to the island, she had returned to Washington and resumed her identity at Priscilla Rich.  Attending a chartiable event, she witnessed an attack on President Franklin Roosevelt thwarted by Wonder Woman.  Seeing this activated her old insecurities and the Cheetah again emerged.  During a brazen robbery, she managed to injure Wonder Woman with an infra-red scratch which she later detected on Diana Prince, revealing the Amazon's secret identity.  She subsequently hypnotized Diana into forgetting she was Wonder Woman but the spell was later broken and the Cheetah again subdued with Priscilla returned to Transformation Island (Wonder Woman #230).  She escaped again in 1945 after seeing a news story in which her cousin Claudia has assumed Priscilla's place as Washington's darling and most admired dancer.  Faking her death so that Mala, warden of Transformation Island, summoned Wonder Woman him, the Cheetah snuck onboard the Invisible Jet only to be captured en route to the mainland and turned over to the police.  Upon escaping, she replaced her cousin and danced at a popular club only to be recognized by Wonder Woman.  When confronted by the Amazon, Priscilla subdued her with her magic girdle and forced the Amazon to lure Steve Trevor and her cousin into a death trap.  Wonder Woman resisted the effects of the girdle enough to summon Etta Candy to the rescue and the Cheetah was again promptly defeated and returned to Transformation Island (Comics Cavalcade #11).  In 1947, the Cheetah returned a third time when a wealthy uncle died and left his estate to Priscilla.  Stealing one of Paula's mental control gems, she subdued Paula and on arrival, Wonder Woman's allies the Holliday Girls.  She was in the process of bringing Wonder Woman under her control when Steve Trevor arrived and shattered the gem, freeing the Amazon to again defeat the Cheetah (DC Special Vol. 1 #3, originally intended for Comic Cavalcade #24)

In 1948, the Saturnian invader Evilless was captured by Wonder Woman and as with all her adversaries, brought to Transformation Island.  Evilless feigned a heart attack during in-processing and while Wonder Woman ran to get a Purple Ray healing device, stole her magic lasso.  Subduing her captor, Evilless used the lasso to free the other penitents on the Island, including the Cheetah.  The freed criminals immediately reverted to their amoral ways and demanded vengeance on their Amazon caretakers. Naming themselves "Villainy Incorporated", the costumed criminals rapidly overwhelmed their captor and took Wonder Woman and her mother hostage.   Penitents who chose not to join the group were incarcerated but eventually worked up the strength to free themselves and capture the members of Villainy Incorporated, including the Cheetah, who remained on the Island. The rest were eventually captured and all subdued with Venus girdle of submission (Wonder Woman #28).

The final confirmed case of the Cheetah occurs some time later in which she again escapes from Mala and  this time steals a plane to the fly to Maine.  There she captures and a weather control device and sets up base on Goblin Head Rock, a nearby landmark. She creates a storm to sink carrying Etta Candy and the Holliday Girls, drawing the attention of Steve Trevor and Wonder Woman.  The Cheetah captures the girls and the machine's inventor, binding  them to the top of a light house and demands that Wonder Woman surrender and join them, lest she use the machine to call down lightning and kill them all.  While The Cheetah gloats, Wonder Woman frees herself and other captives and make short work of the Cheetah's crew.  Enraged, the Cheetah leaps from Goblin Head into the rock-filled water below.  Etta and Steve believe that the Cheetah has finally destroyed herself but Wonder Woman is not so sure (unpublished Golden Age story printed in Wonder Woman #196)

The ultimate fate of the Cheetah of Earth-Two remains unknown as no other unambiguous records of her activities have been revealed.  A series of possibly apocryphal reports suggest the appearance of a "Golden Age Cheetah" in the 1960's (Wonder Woman #160,#166) but is not clear if these are cases involving the Priscilla Rich of Earth-Two, Earth-One, both or neither.  The Cheetah's costume is on display in the memorabilia room of  Wonder Woman's home in the 1980's (Wonder Woman #300) but when that was acquired is unknown.  The Cheetah was also seen during the Villain War of the Crisis on Infinite Earths but whether  that was a contemporaneous version or the younger Cheetah pulled from decades prior is not clear. Ultimately, the final fate of Priscilla Rich, the Earth-Two Cheetah, is simply unknown.

Multiversity

Prior Earth-1 = The existence of the Silver Age Cheetah is largely indirect.  It is possibly the apocryphal tales of the 1960's (Wonder Woman #160,#166) refer to her but such is not clear.  In the 1970's, it is revealed that the Earth-1 Cheetah is largely an invalid of unknown causes and when the terrorist organization Kobra attempts to recruit her, she dies shortly after their visit.  Her niece Debbie Domaine inherits the role (Wonder Woman #274) and battles Wonder Woman and the Justice League as a member of the Secret Society of Super-Villains. Extensive documentation of the Earth-1 Cheetah remains elusive.

Prior Earth/Earth-0  =  Priscilla Rich and her identity as the Cheetah are known to have existed during the 1940's and her membership in Villainy Incorporated is similar (Wonder Woman: Our Worlds At War #1).  She eventually reformed to some degree and when Barbara Minerva assumed the role of the Cheetah, became an outspoken media personality condemning Minerva's revival of the nom du crime.   In her old age, she is murdered by Minerva and Professor Zoom as part of a ritual to established Minerva's unchallenged dominances of the role of the Cheetah (Flash vol. 2 #219)

Current Earth-0 = Priscilla Rich is thought not to exist on the current core world of the multiverse, being simply an alias used by Barbara Ann Minerva, the Cheetah of this world.

Earth-21 = A version of the Cheetah appearing to be Priscilla Rich is referred on  this earth but it is unclear where and when her career began, during the 1940's career of Wonder Woman or during the rise of the second generation of heroes in 1960's.

Powers/Skills

The abilities of the Cheetah do not appear to derive from particularly super-human abilities although she is arguably an elite normal human.  Training in dance and acrobatics have made her strong, limber and agile and driven by the mania of her Cheetah personality, these are likely approaching human maximums.  As an heiress with access to an extensive estate, she has little trouble financing her weapons or accesories.

Weaknesses/Limitations

 The Cheetah, while apparently escaping certain death several times, was mortal and could be injured.  She was sensitive to the Venus Girdles used by Amazons to force prisoners to submit and largely remained with Priscilla Rich as the dominant personality when she wore it.   The specific mental illness producing the Cheetah persona appeared to be a deep inferiority complex and when Priscilla could be made to feel valued, the Cheetah persona could be surpressed.

Appearances

Issue Comment Reprinted in
Wonder Woman #6 1st appearance, vs. Wonder Woman Limited Collector's Edition #C-45, Wonder Woman Archives #3
Sensation Comics #22 vs. Wonder Woman Wonder Woman Archives #3
Wonder Woman #230 vs. Wonder Woman, set in 1940's
Comic Cavalcade #11 vs. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman #28 w/ Villainy, Inc. vs. Wonder Woman Adventure #416, Wonder Woman Annual #1 (1967), Wonder Woman: A celebration of 75 years, Wonder Woman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told
DC Special #3 Unpublished GA Story, vs. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman #196 Unpublished GA Story, vs. Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman #160 retro GA Story, vs. Wonder Woman May be apocryphal
Wonder Woman #166 retro GA Story, vs. Wonder Woman May be apocryphal
Crisis on Infinite Earths #9 in the Villain War Absolute Crisis on Infinite Earths, Crisis on Infinite Earths TPB
Active links are to online issues at www.comixology.com.

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